Call to Worship/Psalm 71:1-3, 9-12 (NRSV)
In you, O Lord, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame.
In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me and save me.
Be to me a rock of refuge, a strong fortress, to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.
Do not cast me off in the time of old age; do not forsake me when my strength is spent.
For my enemies speak concerning me, and those who watch for my life consult together.
They say, “Pursue and seize that person whom God has forsaken, for there is no one to deliver.”
O God, do not be far from me; O my God, make haste to help me!
Prayer for the Beginning of Holy Week
Gracious and loving God, in the journey of life, you are our guide and our companion.
From our beginning to our end, you are there. You run this race alongside us, at times encouraging us, at times comforting us, at times tending to our wounds, at time carrying us when we don’t think we can take another step.
For six weeks we have been on a Lenten journey, and you have been right here with us—with us in our discipline and devotion, with us in our weakness and failure, with us in our fear, with us in our hope.
As we spend this final week with Jesus in Jerusalem, we are amazed once again by his gentle spirit and fierce determination. As he confronts those who challenge him, he confronts our own stubbornness and defiant wills. As he cares even for those who hate him, we are challenged to love as he loves. As he bears witness to the emergence of your kingdom, our eyes are opened to your presence all around us. As he moves with resolve toward his dark destiny, we find ourselves struggling to understand why it has to be this way.
God, the journey is not just about the destination; it is about each step along the way.
The journey itself is a blessing, with all of its joys and sorrows. As we run this race you are shaping us into new people. As we move with you, we are continually born anew. Help us to be attentive to each step, in the darkness and in the light. Help us to fully experience all that we encounter, the good and the bad, for in it all we discover you.
Though the race of life goes on, our Lenten journey is nearing its conclusion. Bind us ever closer to Christ, so that we may turn our hearts and minds to all that he experienced in the crucible of this holy week, a week both terrible and wonderful. Hear us even now as we join our voices to his, saying the prayer he taught us:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
Scripture Lesson/Matthew 21:12-17 (NRSV)
12Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. 13He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a den of robbers.” 14The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them. 15But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that he did, and heard the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became angry 16and said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, ‘Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise for yourself’?” 17He left them, went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there.
It was on Monday that religion got in the way.
An outsider would have thought that it was a pet shop’s fire sale.
And the outsider, in some ways, wouldn’t have been far wrong.
Only, it wasn’t household pets, it was pigeons that were being purchased.
And it wasn’t a fire sale; it was a rip-off stall in a holy temple bartering birds for sacrifice.
And the price was something only the rich could afford.
No discounts to students, retirees, or social security claimants.
Then he, the holiest man on earth, went through the bizarre bazaar like a bull in a china shop.
So the doves got liberated and the pigeon sellers got angry.
And the police went crazy and the poor people clapped like mad, because he was making a sign that God was for everybody, not just those who could afford him.
He turned the tables on Monday …
The day that religion got in the way.
Stages on the Way: Worship Resources for Lent, Holy Week, & Easter
Much of what transpires in Jesus’ actions in the temple echo the words of the prophet Jeremiah some 600 years before. In Jeremiah 7, God tells the prophet to stand in front of the temple and confront those who enter to worship and their false sense of security. Their clinging to the refrain “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord (7:4) indicates that they are taking it for granted that God’s presence in the temple guarantees the security of Jerusalem. Jeremiah challenges them: Do you think that divine worship excuses you from divine justice, that all God wants is regular attendance at God’s temple rather than the equitable distribution of resources? Since God is just and the world belongs to God, worship cannot be separated from justice, because worship or union with a God of justice empowers the worshiper for a life of justice. Says Jeremiah:
If you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors forever and ever…. Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your sight?
Jeremiah 7:5-7, 11, NRSV
Jeremiah stands in a long tradition of Israel’s prophets including Amos, Hosea, Micah, and Isaiah in suggesting that belief must become manifest in action, that worship without working for justice in the world is empty, hollow, meaningless. In this sense, the meaning of the phrase “den of robbers” implies that the people’s everyday injustices make them robbers, and they think the temple is their safe house, den, hideaway, or place of security. The temple is not so much the place where the robbery occurs, but the place where robbers take refuge.
The Last Week: A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus’ Final Week in Jerusalem, Marcus Borg & John Dominic Crossan
Responsive Prayer for Holy Week
In our lives this week, we turned away from your triumphal entry.
The words in our heads and on our lips have been, “Can’t” “Won’t” “Never” “Impossible”.
Believing our problems are too deep for you, we have underestimated your power and stewed in our own misery. We repent of this hardheartedness.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Too often we pray only for ourselves and our own needs.
In spite of ourselves, you walk a road straight to the heart of us.
You heal us, help us, hold us.
We gobble your comfort greedily and run away, never returning to say, “Thank you”.
Help us to be thankful for your presence in our lives.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
You place people in our road who are in desperate need of your good news, and we have walked by on the other side. Or we’ve said, “We’ll help them tomorrow, when we have more time, or more money, or more something.” Help us to be your hands and feet in this world.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
God of grace, we long to be dear disciples, washing each other’s feet.
We long to be faithful companions, awake in the darkest hour.
We long to follow in your footsteps, even if they lead to crosses on a barren hillside.
These are the desires of our hearts.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer. Amen.
May Jesus Christ,
who for our sake became obedient unto death, even death on a cross,
keep you and strengthen you, now and forever. Amen.